was a laughable
new wrinkle. here's an
industry that had instituted payola
routinely manipulated shady contracts to
take away publishing from songwriters and
engaged in questionable accounting
practices to deny royalties from
the record sales to the vast
majority of its artists
greg kot / pandora's boombox 2009

music formats, long and short tails
statigrafix complexity notes
explanations for the masses series [e4m]
time dimensions and time blindness [tdtb]


what does the above visualization tell us?

Music sales figures are often quoted, but numbers are not effective in conveying dynamic patterns - data visualization is. Hats off to RIAA and NYT for finally presenting a complete picture.

from a complexity science perspective...?

the coarse-grained phases of each medium's sales: invention [nucleation]; commercial development and adoption [growth]; obsolescence [quick or slow death] are invariant across formats, similar to the pattern of waves crashing onshore.

Each wave is transient, similar to other waves, but distinct in detail. Like the wave process is driven [exogenously] by wind, the "music media market" process is not in equilibrium and no two formats [and consequently sales patterns] follow the same trajectory in detail.

There is no convenient, universal theory of transients. Complexity science relies on dynamical systems theory, but dynamical systems theory develops around the study of attractors [equilibria, cycles, chaotic attractors...] Attractors are complements of transients.

The implication is that forecasting sales patterns of any /given/ medium cannot reasonably appeal to extrapolation from past behavior but rather must take fundamental factors into account, eg, in 2009: digital piracy, free IP-streaming and economic conditions.

some formats die a quick death, others - like vinyl - a more protracted old age

A concept intimately related to complex systems is that of the "Fat tail." Fat tailed distributions are not completely reflected by sales volume alone but also by diversity of titles.

On the one hand, a PRS for Music [a nonprofit] study found that of 13m songs available online, 10m were not purchased at all while 80% of revenue was generated by only 52k songs.

On the other hand, currently stocks 694 distinct jamaican 7" vinyl singles released in the past 60 days. Few of these titles are available in any other format. These vinyl titles are pressed in small numbers, typically sell out quickly and disperse to collectors globally.

alan calvitti phd
head of research